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Tactile Colour: Please Do Touch

Editor's Note: Linda Bartram, who lives in Victoria, British Columbia, is the NFB:AE's Mentorship Coordinator.

Photo: Linda Bartram working with tactile colour; in this picture, she appears to be using a cut out of a tree.

Tactile Colour is designed to enable people to identify colours and interpret information by touch. It is an easy system of 12 standardized textures representing 12 colours--red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink, brown, tan, white, gray and black. Colour identification cards with raised print and braille make it easy to choose or determine the colour you are feeling.

Textures are distinctive, arranged to reflect the colour spectrum so that the texture for orange feels between those of red and yellow; green is a mixture of yellow and blue and so on. Contrasting colours, furthermore, like red and green or black and white, are represented by contrasting textures.

Tactile Colour was initiated by Lois Lawrie, a printer and graphic artist who, having lost her sight, envisioned Tactile Colour in 1991 as a medium for artists. The system is screen printed on sheets of self-adhesive vinyl. It is also printed in several coloured textures to make maps, cards and images. Tactile Colour will soon be available in durable materials for use outside and in the public place.

I was first introduced to Tactile Colour through the art show, "Please Touch", which was held in Victoria a few years ago.

Before I entered the display area, I was asked to use a handy wipe to clean my hands and was given a tape recorder and headphones, along with operating instructions for the taped narrative. Following this orientation, I was ushered into a darkened room and shown to the first piece of art.

I listened to the description of the creation and its creator while I moved my hands, tentatively at first, over the display. I was guided to the next piece, and this time I explored the artwork more boldly. As I moved around the room, I discovered that I was beginning to recognize the different colour textures and was able to interpret what was being depicted more easily.

Many of the works were by sighted artists using the medium for the first time, while several of the pieces had been created by individuals who were, like me, blind.

As I left the exhibit room full of the excitement of having been given the opportunity to appreciate art in the same way as other patrons, I was asked if

I would be interested in participating in a Greeting Cards Workshop. Might this be the opportunity I had been looking for? Might I too be able to scratch my creative itch through Tactile Colour?

The workshop was held a few weeks later just before Christmas, so Christmas greeting cards were the order of the day.

Sighted volunteers cut out templates, for me an angel, which we taped to the back of the colour of our choice.

After cutting carefully around the rigid template with a pair of scissors (I wasn't ready to brave a craft knife yet), we were instructed to peel back a small portion of the Tactile Colour backing and place the shape on the card. Gradually I removed the remainder of the backing and I pressed my angel in place.

My pink fuzzy angel needed something else, however, and I decided to try a free-hand cut-out. I don't read music, but I think what I produced was two pairs of black quarter notes. I placed these above my angel and, with a braille greeting inside, my first Christmas card was created.

By the end of the workshop, I had two other cards--a set of colourful Christmas bells and a snowman, complete with a black top hat, orange carrot nose and a three dimensional red scarf. I was making art!!!

I left the workshop with a set of Tactile Colour sheets and a plan to make several more greeting cards. Since then, I have made various cards, including a thank you card for a volunteer computer instructor who is blind.

My next Tactile Colour Workshop was on mapmaking. Sighted mapmakers and blind or vision-impaired participants made tactile textured maps of areas of interest to the blind and vision-impaired participants.

We, the participants, were surveyed to determine our criteria for producing the most functional map for our own personal use. This was followed by two or three workshops where the maps were constructed using Tactile Colour with a legend of braille or raised print.

For years I had avoided shopping at a certain mall as I, along with several of my sighted shopping companions, found the layout of this mall very confusing. My mapmaking project, therefore, was to reveal the mysteries of this commercial labyrinth through Tactile Colour.

Each block of shops was depicted in a different colour, and braille letters were used to identify the individual shops. Two braille legends, which could be cross-referenced, completed the project. Mayfair Mall, here I come!!!

My most recent project was a tactile map for a friend who is blind. She was taking a course that involved a four-day retreat at a church camp I had visited on several occasions. Combining my rather sketchy mental map of the main building and its description from a sighted camp-goer, I was able to produce a fairly accurate tactile replica of the floor plan. She was pleased to be able to concentrate on the retreat activities and not on worrying about coming across unfamiliar rooms and passageways.

Tactile Colour can also be used to make shaped identification stickers, jigsaw puzzles and memory cards.

Adapted from Tactile Colour's website:

"Tactile Colour can be used: as an educational aid for the integrated classroom; to inspire creativity in people with different artistic and visual abilities; for linguistic, cognitive, psychological and vision studies; to provide a medium for cartographers and architects to make buildings and maps more accessible; as an augmentative communication aid for people who are blind and do not speak; to blend colour and texture as an introduction to the use of touch for people who may lose more sight; and to encourage the use of touch for sighted people.

Contact Tactile Colour Communication at: 1329 Denman Street, Victoria, BC, V8R 1X4, Canada; phone: 1-250-480-1610 or toll-free 1-888-600-1931; email: and website:



I've tried logging into your web site but am unable to do this.
I've had a query from someone setting up a sensory garden for visually impaired adults and children. She wants to make a tactile plaque, and have on the plaque animals and birds of the area.

She wants to use a tactile interpretation of colour. So converting the colours into something you can feel. She has spoken to someone about 'snell' does anyone know anything about this or how to use a tactile interpretation of colour?

I've looked at your web site and the idea of the colours you suggest would be what we are looking for any idea how I can log in and get more details for this query?

What a shame that the tactile colour sheets are no longer available. I purchased a set of the colours many years ago - they were expensive and money was very tight at my Resource Centre so didn't buy any more. Would love to think that someone started producing it again. It was a very useful resource

What a shame that the tactile colour sheets are no longer available. I purchased a set of the colours many years ago - they were expensive and money was very tight at my Resource Centre so didn't buy any more. Would love to think that someone started producing it again. It was a very useful resource

Can you tell me, please, if the Tactile Colour Communication Society has stopped producing their Tactile Colour sheets? Do you know their current contact information? My purchasing department has given up trying to locate them! Thank you, in advance, for any help or answers you can provide.

I did some asking around about this. Linda Bartram, who wrote this article, advises Lois Lawrie passed away a few years ago and she has not been able to find any more information since then. I fear that this concept may have died with Lois, and that nobody took over the production of the tactile colour sheets.

If I receive any conflicting information going forward I will update this, but that is what we know at the moment.

ZZ - Disregard this link; it is used to trick spammers.